Above: Trans Am Totem by artist Marcus Bowcott. Photo by Ruth Hartnup.
Feature image: Trans Am Totem by artist Marcus Bowcott. Photo by Michael Nugent.

More than any other artifact of modern technology, the automobile has shaped our physical environment, social relations, economy, and culture. … Although our embrace of the automobile is often accompanied by unease over many of its consequences, it cannot be denied that the ownership and operation of cars resonate with some of our most important values and aspirations.

– Rudi Volti, author of “Cars & Culture: The Life Story of a Technology”


Above: Cadillac Ranch by artist collective Ant Farm. Photos by Wyatt McSpadden.

Our upcoming public sculpture, CARBON COPY, draws from a rich history of car-based art installations in North America and beyond. Cars have been utilized in large-scale public artworks for many decades, perhaps because of their prevalence and accessibility. Since Henry Ford pioneered the assembly line, making automobiles affordable to an ever-increasing demographic of people, cars have been tied to issues of mobility, consumerism, shifting fashions, and class culture. Motor vehicles have made our lives better, (arguably) more communal, and certainly more prolific. Within Alberta’s cold climate, personal cars have become staples of comfortable living, lubricating an ease of access between one place and the next – no matter the environmental conditions outside.

Inopportune: Stage One by artist Cai Guo-Qiang. Photo by Hiro Ihara.

But cars are also poignant symbols of decadence: almost nothing depreciates faster in value than a brand new car. In heavily suburban cities like Edmonton and Calgary, cars can isolate people from regular contact with strangers, contributing to the sequestering of communities. The environmental impact of the automobile is tangible, especially in rapidly developing nations. Still, to function productively within cities, access to a vehicle is all but required – and artists use automobiles as much as any other class of professional. We find this multi-faceted tension fascinating.

Long-Term Parking  by artist Arman

Our interest in art-making branches from a fascination with people – their actions, objects, byproducts, impulses, and understandings. Because our art practice draws frequently from second-hand and mass-produced objects, these materials arrive at our studio dirtied by history (both literally and metaphorically).

The histories of objects give them a particular quality: they have been used and touched by people, weather, and circumstance, and they carry marks of their experience with them – scratches, dents, dirt, smells, wear, and tear. Even mass-produced objects – like cars – become unique as they age. Using these objects as sculptural materials creates a rich and more complex commentary around the final sculpture.

Herein lies the heart of public art: the most relevant public art acknowledges its context. In order to do that, the work must recognize the true diversity of the space it occupies – be that a museum, a public square, or a (literal) parking lot. With CARBON COPY, the car-based artwork we’re designing, we are interested in developing work for the particulars of the context, responding to the site with curiosity, relevance, and authenticity.

The Beetle Sphere by artist Ichwan Noor

Car culture evolved from a desire to participate in the broadest possible version of “local” space. How many alternate solutions could have been found to the problem of mobility? What role do these vehicles play into our daily lives? How can we use the ubiquitous symbol of “the car” to speak to the zeitgeist of our times?

Fat Car by artist Erwin Wurm. Photo by Arthur Evans.
Your Mobile Expectations by artist Olafur Eliasson

At the heart of CARBON COPY is a desire to subvert the everyday: just as this car is being reimagined, so too is Edmonton’s Brewery District. How can this small shift in perspective drive us to re-see the world around us, imagining different futures? After all, like an imperfect scan, re-examining the familiar always shifts it slightly, allowing space for evolution and growth.

Car Scan Experiment 2 - sideways
Scanner experiments for CARBON COPY

Copyright Statement - CARBON COPY

One thought on “CAR ART

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